Law enforcement quotas are a very controversial concept. Many states outright ban their use by law enforcement.
Like Minnesota, for instance, which has a statute outlawing the use of quotas “for the issuance of traffic citations, including administrative citations.” In Michigan, which also bans quotas, a sheriff’s deputy in Newaygo County was disciplined a few days ago after he stated during a County Commission meeting that officers would “turn in numbers” for DUI enforcement after their shifts.
There are dozens of instances, found after a few quick Google Searches, of law enforcement quotas stirring controversy with the public and resulting in law enforcement officers being suspended and even fired for their use where prohibited. Radley Balko, a Washington Post journalist and author of Rise of the Warrior Cop has said that having a quota policy “encourages police to create petty crimes and ignore serious crimes, and that’s clearly the opposite of what we want our police to be doing.”
So are quotas being used in North Dakota? Our state has no statutes prohibiting their use, and a recent memo sent out by Captain Bryan Niewind of the North Dakota Highway Patrol, who commands the southeast region of the state, sets arrest and citation “goals” for his troopers.
You can read the memo I obtained below. At the bottom you can see Niewind clearly lay out arrest and citation goals for violations like DUI, seatbelt compliance, speeding, drug arrests, and load weight enforcement.
Here’s an excerpt:
So, this is the Highway Patrol using quotas, right?
Well, it depends on your definition of quotas, I guess.
I reached out to Lt. Tom Iverson, who is the spokesman for the Highway Patrol and asked him about this memo. “The NDHP does not utilize a quota system,” Iverson told me via email, “however we do set organizational as well as employee goals.”
So what’s the difference for a goal of, say, 30 criminal arrests versus a quota for those arrests?
“A quota is a hard number that does not fluctuate,” Iverson said. “A quota suggests a number that you ‘must’ achieve, or there will be consequences.” Whereas a “goal is flexible and suggests trying your best to achieve that goal. It is something to work toward and is hopefully something that can be achieved if you try your best.”
So what happens to troopers who don’t hit their goals that aren’t quotas? Here’s a direct quote of what I asked Iverson via email: “How are these quotas enforced? Do officers failing to hit them get a reprimand or a poor review?”
This is what Iverson told me in response, which kind of doesn’t answer the question:
Once again, it is important to note that the numbers presented in the attached document are simply goals, and not a quota. Setting goals is important for any organization, whether in the private or public sector. Law enforcement is no different. We try hard to maintain our proactive traffic enforcement efforts, rather than finding ourselves in a constant reactive mode. Each officer is evaluated on the totality of what they accomplish. Our troopers have a wide range of duties that we must look at the totality of their activities, to include specialized training. They are evaluated in several areas, to include; traffic inspection and enforcement, traffic crash and emergency incident management, operation and maintenance of vehicles and equipment, arrest-related activities, community relations, written and verbal communications, professionalism, and internal/external coordination. Although there may be deficiencies in some of these categories, there may be extra duties or assignments the trooper is involved in that are taken into consideration.
I called Iverson this morning as a follow-up to this inquiry and asked again what would happen to a trooper who is not hitting the arrest number goals set out by his supervisor.
“That’s not real easy to explain,” Iverson told me. “Let’s say the trooper is not meeting the set goals. Then the supervisor needs to sit down with that officer.”
Iverson said the supervisor would likely discuss why the trooper was not meeting those goals. He said it could be because the trooper has had other duties, such as a crash investigation or training, but that if a trooper was disciplined “it wouldn’t be because of one area.”
“These would just be goals not a hard and fast requirement,” he told me.
That may be so, but I think it’s safe to say that a trooper would have to explain himself/herself to a supervisor if they don’t hit those goals, and fear that there could be repercussions for their careers if they don’t have a good explanation for why they haven’t hit the goals.
Which brings us back to the quotas issue. I feel like if I had a boss and he or she told me that I had to write a certain number of blog posts a year as a goal, I’d feel like I had to work really hard to meet that goal or else my boss would be unhappy with me.
So my goal is sort of my quota, no? Even if there’s some allowance for falling short?
I feel like the Highway Patrol is making distinctions without a difference between goals and quotas.
I also asked Iverson if specific arrest number goals were a common practice for the Highway Patrol across the state.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It is standard that we would set goals. I don’t necessarily find it unusual,” he said.
I called Captain Niewind and left him a voicemail inquiring about the memo, but he has not yet returned my call.
UPDATE: Captain Niewind responded to my phone call with a text saying that he is currently out of town and referring me to Lt. Iverson.
Featured image is of a North Dakota Highway Patrol squad car parked in front of the state capitol in 1959.